Dec 31 2014 12:45pm

Team H&H Recommends: Best of 2014

Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover by Sarah MacLeanEvery month we ask our bloggers for their best book recommendations. With the end of the year approaching, it was time to ask for the Best of 2014. You've seen Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of the Bloggers' Best Reads of 2014. Now it's Team H&H's turns and we're giving you our top 10 books and couples of the year—and we can't wait to see what awaits us in 2015!

Heather Waters (Site Manager):

Like last year, I'm here with my top couples of 2014!

Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover’s Georgiana/Duncan

Sarah MacLean knocks it out of the park again in the conclusion to her Rules of Scoundrels series with one of the most beloved tropes in romance: chick in pants! After weaving the legend of powerful club owner Chase for YEARS, MacLean revealed the mysterious character to be none other than fallen Lady Georgianna, and paired her with the only man who could match her in power and in wits, newspaper tycoon Duncan West. All their interactions are delightful, but especially outstanding is a particular pool scene... Let's just say you'll know it when you see it!

Selfie’s Henry/Eliza

The first few episodes of this modern-day My Fair Lady television series were rough, but the show has become a must-see for the heat between Karen Gillan's Eliza Dooley and John Cho's Henry Higgs. If fake dance parties, business retreats, and office-themed birthday celebrations don't sound all that exciting, it's only because you haven't seen how these two tackle them. One only hopes they get some sort of happy-ish ending, since the show has been canceled by ABC (and Hulu is just releasing the final unaired episodes).

The 100's Bellamy and ClarkeThe 100’s Bellamy/Clarke

Battlestar Galactica was one a favorite of mine before it went off the rails in later seasons, so I was thrilled to find a new postapoclyptic series to fill that void, even if I never saw it coming in the form of a CW show based on a YA novel. But the stakes are high, the women rule, and the action and twists make for weekly adrenaline rushes. Plus...and you knew this was coming, I'm intrigued by the potential for romance between two antagonists-turned-allies, Clarke and Bellamy. Watching them develop trust and nonverbal communication tricks (if that's what you want to call their constant gazing) has been a pleasure so far.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’s Lara Jean/Peter

Jenny Han won my admiration with her Summer I Turned Pretty series, so I figured I'd enjoy her new book. And I was right! Not only did she tell a wonderful coming-of-age story, but she also drew me into a dreaded love triangle with my loyalty going to one guy...before tempting me to switch to another side! I mean, she's GOOD. I usually know which couple I'm gonna 'ship from early on; if you can manage to surprise me, you'll have my loyalty forever. And Han's done it twice! Can't wait to see if she does it again with Lara Jean's sequel, P.S. I Still Love You. But I dunno, I like Peter a lot... Right?

Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Jake/Amy

As much as I enjoyed Brooklyn Nine-Nine's freshman season, Jake Peralta and Amy Santiago felt a little TOO inevitable for me to really get behind (am I contrary or what?). But I have adored how the show has put the brakes on the relationship in such a fun way this year, which is now actually making me root for them? I don't know, it's confusing. But their terrible timing has made for both good comedy and sweetly painful drama, and the solid friendship they've built despite all that has made a big fan outta me.

Badlands by Jill SorensonBadlands’ Penny/Owen

What do I love more than romantic suspense? Romantic suspense that teases out a pairing over multiple books. 'Cause who doesn't enjoy some anticipation? Jill Sorenson's Aftershock series is an excellent mix of romance and suspense, and the way she established a compelling b0nd between two unlikely characters—a pregnant runaway teenager and a convict—a couple book before paying it off was pretty genius. I raced through the books to get to their story and have no regrets; their journey was a complicated but oh-so-rewarding one.

Belle’s Dido/John

Gugu Mbatha-Raw is a major new talent, and I actually had a tough time choosing between Belle and Beyond the Lights (another romance she starred in this year that I've gushed about) for this spot on the list, I love them both so much. But Belle, the Jane Austen-esque inspired-by-a-true-story tale of Dido Elizabeth Belle, blew me away. The movie offers a glimpse into the life of a 19th-century woman caught between worlds through no fault of her own, as well as a sweetly unfolding romance between to kindred spirits determined to help change the world.

A Christmas Gone Perfectly Wrong’s Lucy/Andrew

Cecilia Grant's Blackshear Family is one of the greatest historical romance series of all time, if you couldn't tell from my placing another Grant novel on my list last year. Her writing is gorgeous, her characters are imperfect and three-dimensional, and her conflicts are more internal than external, just the way I like 'em. Lucy and Andrew's story is no exception to this rule, and also benefits from being a Christmas story and having a just-one-bed scenario (eeee!), which combined just gave me all sorts of warm and fuzzy feelings.

His Secretary: Undone’s Adrian/Meghan

You have to understand—billionaire romances are not my thing, usually. But Jennifer Proffitt recommended Melanie Marchande's erotic romance to me because I DO like boss-secretary stories, and I am so glad she did, because it is awesome. As promised, these two defy expectations at every turn—their courtship is alarmingly normal for as rich as Adrian is, for example—and are thus a total blast.

Obvious Child's Donna/Max

Abortion is a tough subject, so I'll say right off the bat that this movie is not for everyone. But as it turns out, Obvious Child is one of the best rom-coms I've seen in years, mostly because it more accurately reflects real life than most. It asks us to consider why real life—where meet-cutes are usually more messy than cute, where you make serious mistakes with serious consequences, where you're never guaranteed a Happily Ever After—can't be just as funny and sweet and romantic as the fairy tales we've been taught are the ideal.

Prisoner by Annika Martin and Skye WarrenMegan Frampton (Community Manager):

This is in alphabetical order, since how can I say one book is better than another when they are all so distinctly different? It was a year for some truly wonderful damaged heroes and heroines. 

Annika Martin and Skye Warren’s Prisoner

This started out so promisingly, and so often in these types of ‘all-or-nothing’ books I’m let down in the second half, when the hero suddenly gets all mushy instead of the badass I (and the heroine) am falling in love with. Not this one; it maintained its sexy suspense throughout, and I was even wondering how the hell they’d get together during the blackest of the several black moments.

Cara McKenna’s Hard Time

The prison librarian/convict thing appears to be my catnip (see Prisoner, above, which had a grad student teaching the convicts), and in McKenna’s take on it, her hero is surprisingly soft, but not uncharacteristically so. I fell in love with both the hero and heroine and understood their essential conflict.

Daniel O’Malley’s The Rook

Okay, confession—this book did not come out this year, but I read it this year, and chortled delightedly all through it. It’s like a paranormal MI-5 and the writing is so witty and the world so fun. I can’t wait for the next book in the series.

Jill Sorenson’s Riding Dirty

This was some dark, gritty stuff also (apparently it was the year for it in my reading), and I liked how essentially true to themselves Sorenson kept her characters, even as they were changing and growing.

Reaper's Stand by Joanna WyldeJoanna Wylde’s Reaper’s Stand

THIS is the standard by which all motorcycle club romances should be judged. A totally fierce, often scary, hero meets his match in his heroine, who becomes tougher because of her relationship with him.

KJ Charles’s Think of England

Historical intrigue at an English country house with an enemies-to-lovers trope? I loved it, I fell in love with Daniel and commiserated with Archie’s intrinsic priggishness.

Kylie Scott’s Lead

I love a tortured, self-loathing hero as much as the next person, and Lead’s Jimmy really puts himself—and Lena—through the wringer. Great grovel, too.

Mary Balogh’s Only Enchanting

Only Enchanting by Mary BaloghWhen Balogh is at her best, as here, there are moments where you feel as though your heart might just bust through your chest because you are feeling all the feels. So poignant, so lovely.

Sarah MacLean’s Never Judge a Lady By Her Cover

Georgiana, aka Chase, meets her match in Duncan; both have secrets, both are adept at ferreting out the truth, and their battle of wits and sexual attraction is an absolute pleasure to read.

Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s Heroes are My Weakness

SEP knows her tropes, and here, she works within the Gothic framework, but with immediately recognizable SEP touches, including humor, quirky characters, and plenty of frank talk. 

Jennifer Proffitt (Production Associate):

C.L. Wilson's Winter King

My roots are in fantasy—I found romance because of the love I found in books by Mercedes Lackey and others. C.L. Wilson is the answer I've been waiting for ever since I stopped reading straight fantasy, it's the perfect combination. Wynter froze his heart in order to take out his enemies, and Khamsin is the daughter of said enemy—and Wynter's war prize. I loved how these two found love and I love all of the side characters that were introduced. 2015 (I hope) will bring the next book in the series, and I can't wait!

Melanie Marchande's His Secretary: Undone

I recommended this one in the Best of November, and then I proceeded to recommend it to anyone who would listen—I take full responsibility for it being on Heather Waters's Best of 2014 list, too. This is the snickers of romance novels for me—part boss-secretary, part billionaire, part mistaken identity, and yet it conforms to none of those ideas. I absolutely loved it!

Nash by Jay CrownoverJay Crownover's Nash

There are some books that come to you at exactly the right time and send you the exact right message, right when you need it. Crownover's Nash, was that book for me. Oversharing time, but earlier this summer my dad died, and Nash was the book I read as I was going back to my hometown. The main character deals with father issues of his own, and gave me a way to process my own feelings during that hard time. This book lands on my lifetime Best of List because of that—never underestimate the healing power of books!

Mary Balogh's Only Enchanting

This book was like falling in love in real life, slowly until all of sudden you realize that you have deep and unending feelings for fictional characters. Flavian and Agnes found each other when they needed one another most—and yet neither one of them knew it. They healed one another and found love together, and it was perfect in a way only Balogh is capable of doing.

Joanna Wylde's Reaper's Stand

Joanna Wylde writes romance like no one I know. The characters are realistic—and not like “she has problems and I can relate to her,” but in the way where truly flawed characters find happiness together. London and Picnic shouldn't have found happiness together, but they not only find happiness but they find it in a way that works in their dangerous, crazy, sometimes messed up world.

Maggie Robinson's The Unsuitable Secretary

The Unsuitable Secretary by Maggie RobinsonIt was hard for me to pick between Robinson's The Unsuitable Secretary and The Reluctant Governess. Both were perfectly executed, but it was The Unsuitable Secretary that captured my heart. It had many tropes I loved—a virgin mistake for a rogue, a plus-sized heroine, boss-secretary yumminess—and a simple love story that will make this one a classic.

Cara McKenna's Hard Time

Eric Collier is my new book boyfriend. When I was reading this one, my roommate asked me what I was reading, I told her “Umm...a romance between a prisoner and a prison librarian, but it's not like it's SO GOOD. You don't even understand.” Until you read Hard Time, you won't understand, but it's one of those books that sticks with you, that informs a lot of your reading throughout the year (I also read Prisoner by Skye Warren and Annika Martin) and even throughout your life.

Christina Lauren's Beautiful Player

Love lessons 101, anyone? Hanna and Will claim the title as one of my favorite couples of all time. Beautiful Player changed my opinion of Christina Lauren, I always loved her Beautiful series, but Beautiful Player took the series, and this author, to another lover—not just an erotic romp, but an erotic romp with heart. This was a touching friends to lovers story, and made me want to hand out with this Beautiful group.

Maya Rodale's Seducing Mr. Knightly

This is the year of the boss-secretary trope for me, apparently. Annabelle Swift is an advice columnist and one of Derek Knightly's Writing Girls. And she's loved him almost as long as she's been on his payroll. She's sick of him not noticing her, and she's ready to step into the spotlight. So she turns to her readers and asks them for advice. Slowly her column catches Knightly's notice...and so does she! It was such a cute and sweet story, and I could totally relate to Annabelle's plight, and loved watching her make Knightly fall to his knees.

Samantha Young's Before Jamaica Lane

More love lessons! Olivia moved aways from America to follow her father back to Scotland. She's settled into the city now, but she's still struggling to find  one thing—love. Enter Nate Sawyer, Olivia's friend and more than willing (okay, not at first), to help Olivia get her float on. Of course, nothing is as simple as that and flirting turns to kissing turns to more!


Learn more about the books mentioned in this post:

Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover by Sarah MacLean  
To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han  
Badlands by Jill Sorenson  
A Christmas Gone Perfectly Wrong by Cecilia Grant  
His Secretary: Undone by Melanie Marchande  
Prisoner by Annika Martin and Skye Warren  
Hard Time by Cara McKenna  
The Rook by Daniel O'Malley  
Riding Dirty by Jill Sorenson  
Reaper's Stand by Joanna Wylde  
Think of England by KJ Charles  
Lead by Kylie Scott  
Only Enchanting by Mary Balogh  
Heroes Are My Weakness by Susan Elizabeth Phillips  
Winter King by CL Wilson  
Nash by Jay Crownover  
The Unsuitable Secretary by Maggie Robinson  
Beautiful Player by Christina Lauren  
Seducing Mr. Knightly by Maya Rodale  
Before Jamaica Lane by Samantha Young  
Sweet Filthy Boy by Christina Lauren  


Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
1. PhoebeChase
The waitlist at my library for Only Enchanting is loooooong. And they pull from over 35 different area libraries!

If Megan starts volunteering at a prison, we'll all know why. :D
Kim Haynes
2. kahintenn
Much as I loved Never Judge a Lady..., I finished Miranda Neville's Duke of Dark Desires this morning and IMO it is even better. It was released yesterday, the only reason I can see why it isn't yet on "best of" lists.
3. Kareni
Thanks for sharing all of your favorites! I see some good stuff here.
Jennifer Proffitt
4. JenniferProffitt
@PhoebeChase, it was SO GOOD. And your library's inability to get it is a good indicator of JUST how good it is. Gah, I can't express how much I loved it.

@Kahintenn, I'm finishing that up today--and you better believe it'll likely land on my best of list for 2015! I haven't read Never Judge a Lady--another I'll likely finish out this week. I think Duke of Dark Desires is proving to be VERY interesting. I'm reading a lot of revenge stories lately (just finished Fool Me Twice by Meredith Duran too).

@Kareni, you're welcome! We enjoy the chance to brag about all the good books we've read and make YOU guys read them too!
5. Kareni
I hear you, JenniferProffitt!

In addition to Jill Sorenson's Badlands, Wild (in the same series) was also good read.
Maggie Robinson
6. Maggie Robinson
Well, you've made my New Year. It's all downhill from here. :) Thanks so much!
7. wsl0612
I am so on board with your recommendations on Cara McKenna's Hard Time! I not only loved the characters but I loved the fact that it was all about "ordinary" people, not a billionaire or celebrity in sight.
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